Sunday 24 May 2020 4.05pm
From the moment of the UK announcement by BoZo almost a fortnight ago, telling us he was lifting most aspects of the lockdown, my anxiety levels rose again. Not to the degree they were at the start of all this, but nevertheless my focus on at last getting some creative work done was somewhat shot again. I reminded myself of Maslow’s Hierarchy, and that you can’t expect to concentrate on making ‘pretty things’ when you’re frightened for your life, and tried to cut myself some slack.
After a few days I really was managing to focus a bit. The weather was going to pick up again and my garden story idea continued to fill me with enthusiasm. I was coming to terms with the apparent fact that everyone immediately surrounding my physical world was just going to do as they pleased. I had routines in place to keep myself as safe and healthy as possible. It was going to be a long haul, but it was going to be ok.
Then last Sunday, the toothache started.
Not long before last Christmas a chunk of one of my teeth broke off, taking an old filling with it. About half of the tooth remained, not in a very good condition, but apart from the sharp edge it wasn’t troubling me. I booked an appointment with the dentist anyhow, expecting a quick new filling and thinking probably best to get it done before the Christmas break; just in case.
He took numerous x-rays and, directing me to look closely at a specific point on one of them, made the observation “it’s terribly close to the nerve!”. From that moment on it seemed clear that he really didn’t want to touch it.
Even when I returned for a second visit, one at which I thought we’d agreed I was going to have it extracted, he revealed that doing so was almost certainly not going to be straight forward, and then declared he wouldn’t be able to enjoy his Christmas knowing I was in pain from the extraction; so it was left. At that point it wasn’t causing me pain (I’d long ago taken a nail file to the sharp broken edges), and I couldn’t reconcile asking a dentist to work on it who I knew didn’t want to work on it, so I pretty much decided I’d forget about it.
Until last Sunday. When it began aching.
A couple of times in recent weeks I’ve bitten on it and winced with pain (oddly, raw spinach, as in a salad, was an absolute no no – I can only think there must be an acid or an enzyme it releases), but it was a sharp pain and gone almost immediately. This was different. This didn’t go.
By Monday evening it was unbearable. I tried a mild painkiller and it did nothing. I tried every “old home remedy” I could find. I had no clove oil but I had cloves, so I chewed one lightly and then stuck it in the hole. No help, just bits of soggy clove stuck in my tooth.
I thought I remembered brandy being the thing to put on a poorly tooth. It’s not something I’ve ever drunk, but I was certain that somewhere I had a tiny bottle, bought once upon a long ago Christmas when I’d resolved to make my own pud (I never did). I pulled everything out of a kitchen cupboard. Yes, there at the back was a very pretty hip flask shaped bottle of, according to the label, a very good cognac. It could be 15 years old. (Does cognac go off?) It appeared to be unopened so I took a chance, swizzled a cotton bud inside, and stuck it on the tooth. No relief at all (but I did discover that very good cognac is NICE, and wondered if maybe I should just forego solid food and buy a few bigger bottles and drink the pain away).
My dilemma was going to turn out to be multi facetted, but at that point I hadn’t quite taken this in. My first thought was quite simply that although the pain was unquestionably bad enough to make any fear of extraction redundant, with my car off the road, and with a lift or taxi out of the question given the impossibility of social distancing, I’d have to walk to my dentist; only a couple of miles, but would I be ok to walk the half an hour home after being sedated?
With my stress level rising again, I remembered the dentist at the end of the road! OK yes they’re private and so it would cost money I need for food, but it would solve the problem. Yes. I’ll see if someone will loan me the money and I’ll go to them. Sigh of relief. Stress level starts to drop again.
I checked the website of the expensive dentist and it said they are doing emergency work. I rang them but only an answerphone giving a mobile number for emergencies. I rang the mobile number. After many rings it was answered with silence, and then a hesitant, “Hello?”, which didn’t quite sound to me like a very expensive dental practice poised to be answering calls from patients! I carried on regardless but was told in no uncertain terms that they are not at this time doing ANY face to face dental work, and that anyway I should contact my own dentist. I was further told my own dentist may refer me to an emergency clinic (where??), but the clinics are only taking patients who have had a course of antibiotics (“…but I don’t need antibiotics, I just need my tooth out”).
As instructed, and because it now seemed the only option, I rang my own (not absurdly expensive or private) dentist and the phone was answered by a real, efficient, dental receptionist. Promising. A few recommended immediate things to try (all of which I was already doing) and she assured me she’d ask my dentist to ring me the next day. Progress. I’d resigned myself to the walk. Soon be over.
The next day my dentist rang. No, they (too) are not doing ANY face to face dental work (the assurance on these practice websites that they are there for emergencies, apparently means they are there to advise you only). Again, I was told of a few recommended things to try (like painkillers, as if it wouldn’t occur to anyone with raging toothache to take painkillers!). It was suggested that I might like to ask the pharmacy for an Emergency Dental Kit (apparently this comes with some temporary filling material, like putty, which as in my case it’s not a hole so much as a half a tooth missing, I knew wouldn’t last 5 minutes), and then, “Sorry. That’s all I can offer. If it gets worse ring again. There is an emergency clinic about 25 miles away [I can’t walk that far!], but they probably won’t do an extraction either. Only life threatening work.”
So there we are.
To be fair the pain fluctuates. Some of the time it is just a sort of background soreness, and providing I’m ultra careful eating (nothing hot, nothing cold, nothing crunchy, or sharp – in fact, lukewarm soft suckable food is the only sensible choice), then most of most days I can get through providing I keep calm; stress exacerbates it instantly, as does evening, and attempting to sleep sends it raging so that’s the time I keep the painkillers for if I can, as I don’t want to take too many. This is going to be for the long haul, not just a few days, and given the condition of the tooth, it can only get worse.
Old Maslow got it right.
I’m hoping if I can just manage the pain, I can move up to the next levels. Because, like the virus, this isn’t going away any time soon. For the moment I’m somewhere between red and orange, and I’m going to have to work my way slowly up (obviously leapfrogging things like ‘connection’ and ‘freedom’!).
I didn’t think about it when I chose a sky blue to colour in the top level of Maslow’s hierarchy, but just at the moment it feels a little like the sky is what I’m reaching for.